How Writers Can Avoid “The Perfect Trap”

In past blog posts I’ve talked about skills, strategies and tips that help in your writing life. A lot of the qualities I’ve focused on–time management, structuring deadlines, dedication and perseverance–are skills that can be transferred to other areas of life and even enhance them. But what happens when qualities that hinder your daily life encroach on your writing life? Pesky qualities like, say, perfectionism? Sure, you can strive for perfection in other areas. But in the process of drafting, of plotting and editing, perfectionism can often serve to cloud your judgment and to make mistakes in prioritizing. I know that you can’t switch off the perfectionist gene, but there are some questions you can ask of yourself that might silence it for long enough to work.

 

1. Does this need to be perfect right now?

Are you writing a first draft? Is this the first chapter of a novel that might change over time? Then maybe something, anything is better than nothing. You can probably redraft it later and move on with the parts of the work that need to be completed.

 

2. Why does it need to be perfect anyway?

“Perfect” is a very abstract term. What defines perfect? If you’ve gone through seven rewrites and you’re still not happy, you possibly never will be. Perhaps perfect isn’t (or shouldn’t) be your aim. Is it publishable? Does it stand a chance in the big wide publishing world? Is it your best? Then who cares if it isn’t perfect? The novels that are published, aren’t always perfect. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive to put forth your best work, but satisfaction must be reached at some point. Just make sure your manuscript is in the best possible shape. Even the most talented writers don’t view their work as being perfect.

 

3. Will you have an editor?

A good editor, as I can testify from writing these blogs, is worth his or her weight in gold. If you’ve sent out your very best work, chances are an editor will make it even better. Maybe even perfect.

 

There’s nothing wrong with high standards but, like in all other aspects of life, sometimes, you have to know when to let go.

 

Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.

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